Cycling helmets – should they be compulsory and do they prevent injuries?

Posted Jan 30, 2018.
As a result of the boom in cycling over the past few years, there has been a lot of comment, claim and counter claim in the mainstream media, cycling press and on social media regarding the use of cycling helmets, whether they should be compulsory and if in fact their use actually helps to reduce the number of head injuries and fatalities.

Transport minister Jesse Norman recently announced a government consultation, to commence in early 2018, on the issue of whether helmet use should be compulsory. Although recent polls indicate that three quarters of people feel that helmet use should be a legal requirement, there are many who claim that analysis of the accident and injury data does not lead to the same conclusion, with campaign group Cycling UK stating that “the effectiveness of helmets is not the black and white issue many think it is”. Other notable names from the world of cycling such as Olympic champion Chris Boardman say that helmet use gives a false sense of security to both cyclists and other road users, and that “helmets do not make a significant difference to people’s safety”

Despite these objections, there is evidence to suggest that helmets do help to prevent deaths and serious head injuries, especially when used in slower moving traffic conditions, and with 100 cycling fatalities on Britain’s roads last year and over 3,000 injuries, it is clear that the issue of cycling safety is one that needs to be given high priority. There is often a perception of a ‘them and us’ battle between cyclists and other road users, which can obstruct progress towards more harmonious road usage for all, particularly the need to focus on the UK’s crumbling road and public highway infrastructure.

Whilst surveys also indicate that the majority of UK cyclists already wear helmets, experience from Australia (where helmet use is compulsory and fines of up to £180 can be levied) has resulted in a drop in the number of cyclists, with its resultant impact on people’s overall health and fitness – not to mention the additional costs of having to use public transport or a private vehicle.